Monday, March 11, 2013

Field Trip Report: Fresno Chaffee Zoo and Forestiere Underground Gardens

This weekend, we visited the unexpectedly chilly city of Fresno. Usually, Fresno, being splat in the middle of California, has people sweating and donning sunglasses. Despite the cold breeze and threatening rain clouds, we visited the Fresno Chaffee Zoo as well as the amazing Forestiere Underground Gardens.

What is wonderful about this zoo is that it has exceptional viewing areas and observation towers. Here, we were able to observe two elephants having hay for breakfast. We watched them gather hay with their trunks until making a pile, and then they scooped it up and into their mouths.

Experienced, kind and informative docents were sprinkled all over the zoo, ready to talk and share personal insights into the animals. When we visited the orangutans and siamang, a docent told us which one was the mother and which were her children, their names and the meaning behind them, and a bit about orangutans in general.

When we neared the Bengal Tiger exhibit, a docent informed us that she was pacing the fence because she knew that it was almost lunchtime. She and the male tiger had come from San Diego Zoo, and the Chaffee Zoo hoped that the tigers would produce a litter soon.

Again, the viewing area for these African animals was open, expansive, and made us feel super close to these beautiful creatures. Here, we saw the giraffes being fed.

Prairie dogs of North America!

We learned that when giraffes are born, they are already six feet tall! Here, Aidyn stands at just under four feet. He was amazed that he is shorter than a newborn giraffe.

The only thing you gotta watch out for at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo is the random hippo that hungrily emerges from the bark chips to gobble young zoo-goers.

Overall, we had a blast at this zoo. Admission was only $7.00 for adults and children (2-11) and seniors (over 62, I think) were only $3.50. They also have a rotary playground next door as well as a storybook land, both of which we did not go to because the weather turned, but they both seemed sweet and enjoyable.

Before heading home, we visited at the Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno. We had stopped at "the best kept secret in Fresno" before, but it was closed. This time, it was open and we promptly signed on for a tour.

It is an historical landmark and, from what I read, was featured on California's Gold with the late Huell Howser.

Here's the basic story:

Baldassare Forestiere, the second oldest son in the family, was denied property by his father (it traditionally going to the first-born son), but Baldassare had a dream of owning a citrus empire. He moved, by himself, to America in the early 1900s, dug tunnels in Boston for his first job, and eventually moved out to California to start his citrus farm. Property in Orange County was too pricey, but there were unbelievable deals in the Central Valley; therefore, he purchased 80 acres of land in Fresno, Ca, and got to work on his lifelong dream.

But, once he ran a shovel into the ground, he struck hardpan soil, a rock-infested soil that his trees would definitely not be able to grow in. Even though he was disappointed, his dream crushed, he tried to make the best of the situation. Once summer arrived, he met with the suffocating 100 degree heat of the summertime and sought a way to escape it.

He dug tunnels. Lots of them.

He made himself a network of underground tunnels in which to live, hide from the heat, and host small gatherings of friends with the hopes of eventually turning the property into a resort. He began experimenting with plants underground, using the soil he had extracted from the uppermost hardpan soil. The hardpan itself he used to build strong walls and ceilings.

What is there now is an intricate tunnel system with beautiful trees reaching for the surface, a cool getaway from the shine and heat of the sun, and relics to this innovative man's 40-year labor of love.

*Disclaimer: All pictures taken are property of Forestiere Underground Gardens and my own personal pictures of the property. They are not used for commercial purposes but rather to report on our field trip.*
Here is Aidyn by an orange tree, above ground (with soil extracted from that hardpan soil), prior to our tour.

Aidyn, his grandma, and I waiting on a bench above ground.

Here is Aidyn in the Trinity Courtyard, below the surface.

Beautiful home-style touches.

Aidyn and Grandma by a citrus tree underground. Every tree has an open ceiling so that it benefits from the heat of the sun without being damaged by the frost of winter.

Aidyn, sitting on a planter, ready to descend into the dark tunnel in the background.

Baldassare even put a bathtub outside!

His bedroom.

A second bed, for guests, presumably.

A gorgeous view of one of the open ceilings. Even though Baldassare was technically underground and enjoying the cooler temperatures, he could still enjoy the sunlight.

Heading out of a tunnel and back to civilization.

While at first I was a bit shocked at the $15 price of admission, the tour was worth every penny. We had a jovial and informative tour guide who was obviously passionate about Baldassare Forestier's story and life's work. Seeing this man's creation and walking through his tunnels is inspiring; it teaches us to be flexible with our dreams and work hard to develop our passion. This little gem is often missed as people coast by on highway 99, with only a small historical landmark sign mentioning its existence. But it is worth the turn off Shaw Avenue and the admission cost.

1 comment:

  1. What an incredible day - those underground gardens look amazing. I can't imagine the ingenuity required to dream them up - let alone create them.